“Look, the days are coming” — this is the Lord’s declaration — “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33b)
Why is it so darn hard to do things God’s way?
Simple. We don’t have the heart for it.
It’s easy to do things when you want to do them, but when our heart’s desires pull in the opposite direction of what we should do, well, that’s an all too familiar story.
Am I right?
And ever since the Fall, humanity’s struggle with God has been a heart problem.
Because of our wayward hearts, our Subdue and Rule Mandate, our innate drive for dominion (especially over other people), has been out of control. Ironic, isn’t it? We have an uncontrolled urge to control.
God’s guidelines have been the only governor on our high-torque dominion drive since the Fall. He gave them to us as commands, laws, statutes, and precepts. At first, they were simple. God said to Adam and Eve in the Creation covenant, “Do it My way.” Then, because humanity acquired a taste for blood during Noah’s day, God said to Noah in the Noahic covenant after the Flood, “Do it My way. Also, don’t eat blood. It belongs to Me.” But God’s people still got out of hand.
So, the Lord decided to create a new line of humanity from an infertile couple – Abraham and Sarah, an elderly man and woman, long past their child-bearing years. The Lord produced a child, Isaac, through a miracle for the couple. From Isaac, the Lord delivered two boys, Esau and the covenant son, Jacob. From Jacob, the Lord produced twelve sons and created a nation through His mercy and faithfulness to His covenant promise to Abraham.
But it was a nation that struggled terribly to remain faithful to their God. Why? Because they shared the exact inner nature with every other fallen human being on earth.
God could give us all the laws, commands, statutes, precepts, and guidelines to cover every tiny aspect of human thought and behavior, but if we don’t have the heart to obey God, we won’t.
So God had two choices: Wipe out humanity or change us.
Thankfully, He chose the latter, and how He does it is what we’ll explore next.
Our Need for the New Covenant
Because of the Fall, we will inevitably abuse our Subdue and Rule Mandate unless God’s commands restrain us, and even then, it’s iffy. Rather than exercising dominion over creation, bringing it under control, and managing it, we’re all driven to control God’s creation and anything else that enters our personal worlds. Sadly, this includes other people.
Because of the Fall, our Subdue and Rule Mandate’s drive for dominion is unceasingly influenced by our sinful human nature that craves self-gratification and security. Our nature pulsates with desires to enjoy, obtain, and achieve (1 John 2:16), even to the extreme (Genesis 6:5, 11-13). Therefore, our corrupted dominion drive must have strong guardrails to keep us from harming other people, and we find those guardrails within the biblical covenants in the form of covenant terms or laws.
However, laws alone won’t stop us if our hearts are unwilling to obey those laws. Let’s be honest. We’re remarkably brilliant about finding ways to circumvent God’s commands to satisfy our desires. God’s laws can only go so far in directing our drive to Subdue and Rule without a willing heart.
The people of Israel found it difficult to live within the Torah’s guidelines because of the heart issue. Humanity’s misdirection and misuse of the Subdue and Rule Mandate are due primarily to that. Therefore, we need a different heart set on following God’s commands at a foundational level. Jesus’ awesome New Covenant does just that!
So, let’s learn about the New Covenant. For that, we’ll need to connect three scriptures like puzzle pieces to see the complete picture of the New Covenant, what it does for us as individuals, and why it’s essential to our Subdue and Rule Mandate’s proper function. You’re going to love this!
The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
The promised New Covenant gets its name from Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah 31:31. However, we must turn back one chapter (Jeremiah 30) for context.
Yehovah’s intent. “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Write on a scroll all the words that I have spoken to you, for look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel and Judah,” says the Lord. “I will restore them to the land I gave to their ancestors and they will possess it” (30:2-3)
Yehovah’s process. Jeremiah 30 is a far-reaching prophecy about the End Times. How do we know that? Because it speaks of Israel’s permanent freedom from slavery in exile (30:8). Also, Yehovah promises that Israel’s Davidic dynasty that was suspended at the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.) will once again have a descendant of David on Israel’s throne (Jeremiah 30:9). The Lord gave His covenant bond that King David would always have an heir ruling Israel (2 Samuel 7:16).
Furthermore, Yehovah will gather all His people from the lands they were exiled when Israel and Judah were booted out of their land through their rebellion against the Lord and His covenant terms (30:10). While it’s calm and quiet for Israel, the Lord will unleash crazy judgment on the nations (30:10-11). The Lord will indeed punish Israel and Judah for their “enormous guilt and innumerable sins (30:14-15), but Yehovah will heal them of what He’s inflicted upon His people in judgment (30:17).
The best part? God “will certainly restore” Jacob’s fortunes, their dwelling places, and cities. Yehovah will increase Jacob’s population and “establish his congregation in My presence.” Yehovah will punish Israel’s oppressors and raise Jacob’s new leader from among them (King David’s heir). Finally, “You will be my people, and I will be your God” (30:18-22).
Israel’s complete restoration hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming! It’s already in process with Israel becoming a nation in May 1948, Israel retaking Jerusalem in June 1967, and the continual waves of returning Jews from the late 1800s to today. And because Jeremiah’s prophecy speaks with such finality, this confirms this is an End Times prophecy, the moment when the earth transitions from rebellious human dominion to the restored rule of God with His faithful Messiah on Israel’s throne, governing under His authority.
Therefore, the context of the New Covenant’s fulfillment is the beginning of Jesus’ messianic kingdom.
Jeremiah 31 continues the vision of Israel’s reinstatement with a restored relationship, population, and joy with repentance (Jeremiah 31:1-30). But then we come to Yehovah’s Grand Promise, the New Covenant.
“‘Look, the days are coming’—this is the Lord’s declaration—‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah’” (Jeremiah 31:31).
What does God promise in Jeremiah’s New Covenant? The critical components of the New Covenant are as follows:
· Regathered. God’s people returned to their land (Jeremiah 31:8-12, 17, 21),
· Restored. God’s people restored as a nation (31:23-25, 27-28),
· Relationship. God renews His relationship with them (31:33-34),
· Forgiveness/Purifying. God gives His people forgiveness and purification (31:34), and
· Resident Torah He causes the internalization of the Law/Torah/covenant terms (31:33).
· Unique to Jeremiah: The name, New Covenant.
But that’s not the entire picture. With a little biblical sleuthing, we find that Yehovah also promised the New Covenant through Ezekiel. How do we know that? Because Ezekiel 11 and 32 reveal most of the same promised New Covenant components that Jeremiah shares:
· Regathered (Ezekiel 11:17, 36:24),
· Restored (11:17, 36:24, 28-30, 33-38),
· Relationship (11:20, 36:28),
· Forgiveness/Purifying (11:18, 36:25, 29, 33), and
· Resident Torah (11:20 implied via obedience, 36:27).
But here are the New Covenant components unique to Ezekiel 11 and 36:
· New heart/spirit (11:19, 36:26),
· Heart of stone to flesh (11:19, 36:26),
· Torah obedience (11:20, 36:27).
Finally, Ezekiel 36 adds a powerfully unique component:
· Indwelling Holy Spirit (36:27).
Now that we have all the puzzle pieces let’s complete the New Covenant puzzle picture.
The New Covenant personal change. Through the New Covenant, God will forgive, cleanse, and restore humanity to their original Eden relationship with God. He will reinstall our original operating system via a regenerated spirit (reconnected to God) and a new, responsive heart that wants to obey His will and ways. God’s Spirit will indwell His people to enable and motivate us to “do it God’s way.” His indwelling Spirit will internalize His laws, His Torah, within us, making His ways easier to understand, apply, and obey.
The New Covenant national fulfillment. Yehovah will bring all Israel, Abraham’s physical descendants, home to their covenant land and restore their nationhood.
So, when does the New Covenant start? It already has but hasn’t reached its fulfillment. It’s a now and not yet thing.
The condition for the New Covenant’s start happened at Jesus’ death and resurrection. The New Covenant person-specific fulfillment began on the Day of Pentecost, opening the way for all people to enter the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13). But the New Covenant’s national fulfillment will happen at the End Time transition point when Jesus returns to regather His people, reinstate the kingdom of Israel, and serve as their Messiah.
The key feature within Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s intersecting elements is the internalization of God’s law, the covenant terms. This aspect of the New Covenant is a significant change.
Does any of this sound familiar, O Jesus-follower? It should.
Because when we consider the entire picture of the New Covenant, it’s precisely what happens to any person, Jew or Gentile, who comes to salvation through Jesus. When born-again, we’re forgiven and cleansed, regenerated spiritually, receive the indwelling Spirit, and experience the desire and power to live according to God’s word. That experience is the New Covenant’s work.
But while we want to live God’s way, most of us Gentile Christians miss a crucial understanding.
God’s Torah, His law, is implanted in us.
Most Christians today are taught that God’s “Old” Covenant Law has been nullified. Not according to Jesus (Matthew 5:17-19). Jesus’ Torah shows us how to walk out the righteousness He’s modeled and given us, and it’s Jesus’ Torah, His commands, statutes, and guidelines, that tell us how to exercise our Subdue and Rule Mandate the right way.
If we refuse God’s Laws, we refuse to learn how to walk His way and reject the guardrails that keep our dominion drive under our control.
“Wait, Dr. Jay! Are you telling us that God’s Law under the Old Covenant is the same under the New Covenant?
Surprising, isn’t it? Let me explain.
What’s so new about the New Covenant? The difference between “New” and “Renew”
There are multiple covenants in biblical history, the main ones being the Creation, Noah, Abraham, Sinai/Moses, David, and the promised New Covenant. Since God’s covenant with David deals specifically with his family line, we’ll set that one aside. When we compare the remaining covenants, we don’t see five different covenants but one covenant with five adjustments. In all of them, God promises His covenant partner(s) offspring and a place to rule (Gee, just like in Genesis 1!). In return, Yehovah expects His partners to obey His terms (His laws) as evidence of continued faithfulness. Let’s compare them.
The Creation covenant’s terms: The Tree Prohibition (Genesis 2:17), “Do it My way.” That’s really broad and not much on specifics, isn’t it?
Here are the terms of Noah’s covenant: “Do it My way,” to which Yehovah adds, “Don’t mess with blood, animal or human. The blood (life) belongs to Me” (Genesis 9:4, 6). Here we have the original Creation covenant terms carried over to Noah’s covenant with an added term to address a specific situation that has changed: a modified diet through the addition of meat.
This added command reveals a principle. Covenants can be renewed with modifications to address changes since the original covenant was made.
Here are the terms of Abraham’s covenant: “For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19). Again, the referred to terms are broadly stated. But because what is “right and just” to God never changes, Abraham’s terms are a carry-over, a continuation of the Creation and Noah covenant terms.
Now we come to the big tamale, the terms of the Sinai/Moses covenant: “When Moses had finished writing down on a scroll every single word of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:24). According to the Jewish Sages, the terms of the Sinai/Moses covenant were expanded to 613 laws. Why?
A big change had occurred in Abraham’s family, and they had grown to over 1.5 million people by the time they stood at the base of Mount Sinai to make a national covenant with God. As His partners, God now required His people to follow His ways, the covenant terms called the Torah, God’s Law.
Since the nation was much larger and more complex as a society than Abraham’s original household, the laws showing what was “right and just” needed to be expanded and spelled out to cover the civil, legal, and ceremonial requirements for the new nation to live God’s way.
In short, the Torah is a carry-over and expansion of the original Creation covenant terms, “Do it My way,” with added details for a civil society.
God expected His people to follow His terms with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5), and to do that, each person was to know God’s Torah, “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).
But it didn’t work out so well. As Yehovah lamented, “If only they had such a heart to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that they and their children would prosper forever” (Deuteronomy 5:29). Israel failed in the same way we all fail to follow the Lord – their hearts weren’t in it.
So, the “Old” Covenant had to be adjusted to include a change, but not with the covenant terms. This time the change had to be with God’s covenant partner. With that adjustment, the “Old” Covenant became the “New” or, rather, “Renewed” Covenant.
The last and best in the line of renewed Covenants
The problem with calling the New Covenant “new” is that it implies something created brand new that never existed before. The Hebrew word for “new” in Jeremiah’s New Covenant is chadash, meaning “new, recent, fresh” (Kohlenberger/Mounce). Because of its title, many Christians believe God’s New Covenant with Israel is entirely new and utterly different from the Older Covenant from Sinai. But that’s not the case.
This misunderstanding is where the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, comes in handy. The rabbis who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek mostly used a word-for-word process. Therefore, the Greek words and translations carry connotations the Hebrew text doesn’t.
The Hebrew word Jeremiah used for “new” is kainos in the Septuagint. Here’s your Greek lesson for the day, student. There are two basic words for “new” in biblical Greek, neos, and kainos. Neos means “belonging to the present (time)” and “new in time, recent, nuance/feeling of fresh and young” (Kittel). In other words, neos is something that never existed before.
On the other hand, kainos means “what a thing is (its nature). It’s something new in nature, implying better, and denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh, unworn. New, but not brand new. New, but not novel. Something new that has not never existed before” (Kittel).
The difference is neos (new in time) vs. kainos (new in nature).
When software is created, it is neos software. When the developer tweaks it to run on upgraded hardware, the software is kainos software. We call it software v2.0. It’s the same software but a better version that works with the upgraded hardware.
The New Covenant could accurately be called Sinai/Moses Covenant v2.0. By God’s power, Covenant v2.0 changes our internal hardware to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specs. Then the developer (our Heavenly Father) downloads Covenant v2.0 operating software and instructions (His Torah/Law) into our spiritual hard drive (our hearts). Finally, the developer Himself jumps into us (ala the movie Tron) to upgrade the system and help us work out the bugs.
Therefore, the “Torah/Law” that applied to God’s people under Covenant v1.0 is the same code under Covenant v2.0, only now it’s embedded in us, and we’re free and empowered to finally “do it God’s way.” This includes learning how to exercise our Subdue and Rule Mandate’s dominion drive properly without hurting other people. Furthermore, we have our Resident Rabbi, Jesus (through the Holy Spirit), to help us understand and apply His covenant terms correctly in every situation.
Everything in Covenant v1.0 (Sinai/Moses) is the same in Covenant v2.0 (New Covenant) except these upgrades:
· A new nature: a changed heart and new spirit.
· The location of the Torah: v1.0 – exterior, v2.0 – interior.
· The sacrifice and blood that sealed it: v1.0 – animal, v2.0 – Jesus.
· God’s location: v1.0 – outside, v2.0 inside.
God’s right and just ways (“Do it My way” commands) that were once hard to understand and follow are now an innate part of every born-again person.
The New Covenant is the epitome of God’s restoration process for humanity, and Jesus is the epicenter. Here’s the most exciting part:
The New Covenant is humanity’s first step in our return to Eden and how we were designed to live. From the moment the Holy Spirit arrived on the Day of Pentecost (the Feast of Shavu’ot), humanity has the capacity and ability to use our Subdue and Rule Mandate, our God-given dominion drive, the way it was intended if we’re spiritual reborn.
Our Subdue and Rule Mandate was never taken from us, but it was corrupted. For a time, God needed external laws to control our dominion drive, but our hearts bucked those laws (you know, like exercising dominion over God and His rule over us).
But through the New Covenant, we’ve been upgraded, rebooted, and can now run God’s software, His Torah/Law, as it should.
Next, we’ll look deeper at our new heart, our new spirit, the indwelling Spirit, and how the New Covenant frees our Subdue and Rule Mandate to function correctly.
Bromiley, Geoffrey W. Edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts